Sleep. No one seems to get enough of it.
Whether you’re a college kid burning the candle at both ends, a working parent juggling family responsibilities, or a career-minded professional just trying to get ahead, sleep tends to get the short-shrift.
Our modern lives keep us busy, busy, busy and sleep often gets side-lined in favor of working that extra job, adding one more event to the schedule, or simply getting the laundry done. Even if there’s time for shut-eye, many physical and emotional conditions can impact our ability to fall and stay asleep.
Why is sleep important? Aside from the obvious benefit of waking well-rested and ready to tackle the day, getting a good night’s sleep is important in supporting bodily functions such as tissue repair, hormone regulation and metabolism. Sleep is also vitally important for brain health, giving our brains a chance to “take out the trash” and strengthen cell pathways to consolidate memories and learning. On the other hand, not getting enough sleep can do some real damage. Poor or insufficient sleep has been shown to increase the risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression and obesity.
How much sleep should we be getting? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults 18 to 60 years old should be getting AT LEAST 7 hours of sleep per night. And the amount of sleep needed is even higher at either side of the spectrum with children, teens and older adults requiring substantially more shut-eye. See the full chart here: https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html
Not just quantity, also quality. Do you get enough time in bed but still feel exhausted the next day? Sleep apnea is just one of many disorders which can impact quality of sleep. It's estimated that over 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, resulting in interrupted and non-restorative sleep patterns which are often due to an interruption in breathing. Sleep apnea can lead to serious health complications and has been linked to cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in this country. Luckily, screening and treatment are available for this and other sleep conditions, so it is important to follow-up with a health-care provide if you or a family member is at risk.
Improve sleep hygiene. Most folks wouldn’t think of going to bed without changing into sleepwear, brushing their teeth and setting the morning alarm, but have you considered other habits that may be impacting your quality of sleep? Create an oasis that's cool, dark and free from distractions. If noise tends to bother you, invest in some ear plugs. Too quiet? A white-noise machine or relaxation track may help. Maintaining a peaceful sleeping environment and a consistent nighttime ritual will signal your brain and body that it’s time for rest.
Cut back on screen time. Though we often use it to relax, too much TV and computer time can also keep us from getting the important hours of restful sleep we need. Artificial light and specifically blue light emitted by electronic devices has been shown to disrupt our natural circadian rhythms - the body’s biological clock. Try unplugging an hour earlier than you normally would. Sound impossible? Start with 15 minutes and work up from there. Turn off the TV, power down the laptop and silence your phone – this isn’t the time to catch up on Facebook posts. If you find it difficult to relax, try doing something less stimulating like listening to music, writing in a journal, reading a book or even washing the dishes.
Limit caffeine and alcohol. You may think it’s unlikely that an afternoon latte or cola could impact sleep 8 hours later... but it can. Although variable from person to person, caffeine has an average half-life of 5 to 6 hours, meaning that it takes that long to clear just HALF the stimulant from your system. Do the math and you’ll see that it’s very possible you’re still feeling the effects when it’s time to hit the hay. If you're having trouble sleeping also consider your evening cocktail. Alcohol can make you feel tired at first but, as your body metabolizes it during the night, you may experience restlessness and find your sleep interrupted – not to mention extra trips to the bathroom.
There's no shortage of tips and tricks for promoting a restful night’s sleep (including counting sheep) but the most important strategy is the one that works for you. Make sleep a priority by paying attention to your daily routine and experimenting with changes that make sense to you. Discover the habits that fit your personality and lifestyle. Your efforts will likely be rewarded with a better night’s sleep, and a more enjoyable and productive day ahead.